Despite the fact that Torino has been a constant presence in the Serie A since 1929, save for a few years earlier this decade, when you think of the poorer side of Turin, not much comes to mind, but that's to be expected when you live in the shadow of the Old Lady. While Roma and Torino have met 142 times, it was only in the past few years that they presented a credible threat to the league, thanks in large part to the duo of Alessio Cerci and Ciro Immobile, both of whom propelled Torino to their first European birth in more than 20 years.
Cerci and Immobile accounted for 35 of Torino's 58 goals last season, an absurd proportion, so it should come as no surprise that, despite Torino sitting a respectable 12th in the league and second in their Europa League group, the Toros offense has suffered markedly without their erstwhile Italian internationals, both of whom fled Serie A in its entirety; a damnation of the league if there ever was one.
The parallels between tomorrow's matchup and last month's Cesena fixture are almost too numerous to count; Roma is once again coming off a rough patch facing a less than staunch opponent at home. While Cesena proved to be a feeble enough foil for a lackluster Roma squad, will these once raging bulls be subdued just as easily?
Daydreaming of Darmian
Of course, now that Cerci and Immobile have sought greener pastures abroad, there is a new bellwether in town, 24-year-old defensive dynamo Matteo Darmian. While many see the young Italian international as the solution to Roma's perpetual fullback problem, Torino's top rated player is so much more than that. Through 13 appearances this season (domestic and EL), Darmian has not only featured as a fullback, but has even served as a defensive midfielder, while averaging 2.9 tackles per match in the process, good for 17th in the league. On top of all that, Darmian had averaged nearly 1.5 key passes per match while completing 77% of his passes; so there is very much an offensive component to his already sound defensive game. There's no telling how those numbers would change with Roma's dramatically superior supporting cast, but at a rumored cost of €10-€15m, it might be worth it to find out.
Apart from the latest apple in Roma's eye, Torino is pretty bereft of newsworthy figures. Through ten matches, the Toros have only scored seven goals, led by Fabio Quagliarella's four tallies, perhaps signaling a late career/small club renaissance for the man who almost came to Roma. In any event, the Toros are assuredly suffering from the departures of Cerci and Immobile, while the defense, thanks in large part to Darmian, has been pretty resolute, though they've been at their worst against the league's more prolific offenses, conceding two goals apiece to Napoli and Lazio, perhaps indicating their success owes as much to timing as talent.
Speaking of Shaky Defenses
With the continued absences of Leandro Castan, Davide Astori, Maicon and now Jose Holebas, what was once considered makeshift, the quartet of Ashley Cole, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Kostas Manolas and Vasilis Torosidis, is quickly becoming the status quo. Of course, the danger of trotting out that depleted backline, despite, you know, the lack of cohesion and talent, is that it increases the likelihood that Daniele De Rossi will be pressed into service as a centerback.
There is, however, some GIGANTIC news on the injury front. Venture on over to the club's official site and you'll see this....STROOTMAN....included on the squad list. That's right, my friends, Kevin Strootman, the Dutch Jesuus himself, will be kitted out amongst his teammates, though the sight of him on the pitch remains a long ways off. Nevertheless, Strootman's return from an ACL injury after a mere eight months of recovery is a welcome sight for sore eyes.
Alessandro Florenzi, who suffered and summarily gutted through an ankle injury mid-week, has also made the official squad list, though he figures to start the match on the bench. With Ale's lingering ankle issues and Juan Iturbe's general struggles, we should be treated to a Gervinho, Francesco Totti and Adem Ljajic front line; a unique trio, each of whom is currently mired in their own slumps.
And that's really the heart of the matter, isn't it? Roma relied so heavily upon Totti, Gervinho and even Mattia Destro last season, that their struggles of late (relatively, of course) has brought down the team in kind. The fact that we are nitpicking a second place club is testament to how far this project has come, thanks in no small measure to last season's performance, but when you raise your standards, the rubrics used to measure your performance necessarily become stricter.
So this is what we're left with; if Roma want to lay claim to the Scudetto, their margins for error, hell their margins for complacency, are razor thin. The slightest misstep, miscalculation or tactical torpidity, particularly against smaller sides, brings with it a maelstrom of criticism and second guessing, specters which have damned many a Roma manager before. The past month has been a trying one for Rudi Garcia, with his tactics, philosophies and simple fitness for the job suddenly coming under scrutiny.
So much of what it takes to be a champion rests between the ears, so the manner in which Garcia weathers this psychological storm may ultimately define whatever measure of success Roma attains this season: can he keep the squad refreshed, engaged and committed to the cause? Can he make the necessary changes to deal with Bayern one day and Torino the next?
We'd better hope so, otherwise we may be back at square one.